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(New York) – All charges against the blogger Pham Viet Dao, 62, should be dropped, and he should be released immediately and unconditionally, Human Rights Watch said today.

Pham Viet Dao, 62, was arrested on June 13, 2013, in Hanoi, for allegedly violating Vietnam penal code article 258, which provides for up to seven years in prison for “abusing democratic freedoms.” He is scheduled to be tried in the People’s Court of Hanoi municipality on March 19, 2014. His trial will be the third of Internet activists arrested in mid-2013.

“The Vietnamese authorities are shaming themselves before domestic and international public opinion by staging yet another political trial of a peaceful critic,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Pham Viet Dao’s only crime has been to use the Internet to voice opinions shared by many Vietnamese, outside and inside government.”

Pham Viet Dao is a former culture ministry official and a member of the Vietnam Writers Association. He was a prominent figure in Vietnam’s social media because of his critiques of Vietnam’s one-party system and criticism of senior officials. The government blocked access to his website after his arrest.

Pham Viet Dao’s arrest followed a declaration by Information and Communication Minister Nguyen Bac Son that, “Recently, opportunist elements in the country and the overseas hostile forces have abused the Internet to spread information that sabotaged the country, distorted the policy of our Party and state.”

All courts in Vietnam are subject to Communist Party control. They have repeatedly applied article 258 to convict Internet commentators, including two others arrested along with Pham Viet Dao in mid-2013. Dinh Nhat Uy was given a 15-month conditionally suspended sentence by a People’s Court in Long An on October 29, 2013, and Truong Duy Nhat was sentenced to two years by a People’s Court in Da Nang on March 4, 2014.

“Convicting Pham Viet Dao on political charges will only place the Vietnamese government and leadership in yet worse light,” Adams said. “Instead of orchestrating another human rights violation, the government should respect its international human rights obligations as part of an effort to constructively address the many problems Vietnam faces.”

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